St. Peter’s Anglican Church is a Christmas church. The center aisle and chancel are carpeted in red. The altar is white marble. The apsidal wall is red brick that rises to a peak above the altar. The side walls are dark wood with stained glass panels. It is a warm church.
Gone today were the Advent purples; gone the wreath and candles; gone the quiet waiting. Today we celebrated Christmas! Red poinsettias banked in a row on the altar, framing the white tented tabernacle. White roses were arranged at each end of the white draped altar, and candelabra flamed with seven candles on either side. The altar candles stood tall above, burning brightly. The crèche on the Epistle side remained, nestled in the greenery, and the Child Jesus lay in the manger.
We were not able to attend Christmas Midnight Eve Mass or the Christmas Day Mass, so as we stepped into the sanctuary today, the blaze of color filled me with a warm thankfulness. I dropped to my knees, thanking God for this church and the freedom to worship. I thanked Him for Himself, His coming to us, His revealing, His love.
Our own Christmas Day had been filled with family, aged seven to nearly eighty – gathering around two long tables, sharing turkey and trimmings, pies and chocolate, as we caught up with one another’s lives. We each brought to the table a year of joys and sorrows, of successes and failures. I knew many of the private heartaches and many of the public joys – I experienced both in this year of 2009 – and it was good to have a few hours to link hands, tell stories, exchange presents, to encourage, listen, and love. Somehow in this gathering Christ mingled with us as well, encouraging us, loving us, for it was His birthday we truly celebrated, and we were thankful.
St. Stephen’s Day followed Christmas. We drove the last guests to the airport and returned to the quiet house, the tree still laden with memories. Leftovers waited to be heated. Laundry needed to be done. Full of voices of loved ones in my head, I moved through the hours, carrying Christmas Day into St. Stephen’s Day, the day we remember the life of the first Christian martyr, the first to pay the price for his belief in the Galilean carpenter.
Today, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, we recalled at St. Peter’s this eloquent writer of the Gospel that opens with, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Our charming Father Hauge climbed slowly to the pulpit and explained that John’s Gospel was meant to be more of a commentary on the other three Gospels, and for this reason John does not include the Nativity story. John was interested in who this Jesus Christ really was, and his Gospel does indeed portray Christ as God, part of the Trinity, part of the Creation of the world itself, having always lived, outside of time. It is in John’s words that we find the answers to our more profound questions. It is in John’s testimony that we clearly see the meaning of the Eucharistic celebration, as it was in the first century of secret house-church ceremonies. These first Christians believed that the bread did indeed become the Body; the wine did indeed become the Blood. We receive Christ into ourselves, John explained.
So just as Christ mingled through the rooms of our house on Christmas Day, pulling us together with love, he mingled today in the creatures of bread and wine. He found his way into our hearts, our minds, our bodies.
I gazed at the bank of red poinsettias, the flaming candles surrounding the white tabernacle. My eyes rose to the twelfth-century crucifix hanging against the red brick wall. I received Christ in the Bread and Wine.
And once again, I gave thanks for Christmas!
St. Peter’s Church, 6113 Lawton, Oakland, CA; Sunday Mass and Church School, 10 a.m.; http://www.saintpetersoakland.com/;http://www.anglicanpck.org/.